No Need to Be An Asshole: A Review of Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic


Somebody get me a moustache, a Seven and Seven, and an ugly carpet: Indie rock bands in late 2012/early 2013 are reviving Seventies song-talkers. First, Brooklyn foursome Parquet Courts released the amazing Light Up Gold, an album FP’s Peter Lillis labeled “2012’s answer to 1976’s self-titled debut from The Modern Lovers.” Now, on the opposite coast, California duo Foxygen have followed up their 2012 debut Take the Kids Off Broadway with We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, an ode to classic records like The Beatles’ Let it Be and Abbey Road and The Velvet Underground’s Loaded.

Last year saw the release of some great psychedelic records, namely Tame Impala’s stunning Lonerism. While Peace & Magic doesn’t quite reach the blissful heights of tracks like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, Jonathan Rado and Sam France have successfully combined Velvet’s proto punk with Jonathan Richman’s sarcasm. On standout track “No Destruction”, smart ass France sings what has already become one of the most (in)famous lyrics of 2013: “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.” It’s my second favorite use of the word “asshole” in a pop song, second to, of course, the song in which Richman ascribes that very honorable label to one Pablo Picasso. The most undeniable part of the song, however, comes when France lets the cheese out and wails, “Oh, but the door of consciousness isn’t open anymore / oh, you think it’s over, oh, you think it’s over to me / someone who smokes pot in the subway.” Whether “No Destruction” represents France digging at an ex-friend or an ex-girlfriend, the listener comes out on top.

Meanwhile, fantasy “On Blue Mountain” begins with the hilarious line, “I was looking through the Bible / I was looking at a goat” and then delves into France’s purported desire to live on such a happy mountain, reminiscent of Kevin Barnes wanting to have bizarre celebrations. After the first verse, the song rips into a guitar riff straight from “Rock n’ Roll” and adds what sounds like a female backing chorus (but could easily just be the duo fucking around) screaming, “I need it!” The duo’s references to and borderline parodies of classic songs become explicit in Kinks-like “San Francisco”, as France croons, “I left my love in San Francisco,” followed by a backing chorus retorting, “that’s okay, I was bored anyway” and then “that’s okay, I was born in L.A.”

Despite their well-executed power pop instrumentation, you have to wonder at times whether Foxygen take themselves, their music, or even anything seriously. On extremely Seventies titled and potentially soul singer referencing “Shuggie”, France sings, “I met your daughter the other day, that was weird / She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ears / But, hey man, have a soda, it’s on the house / Remember what I told you, about the rumors inside this house.” Rhyming “house” with “house”, Foxygen take Pavement-esque laziness a tad too literally.

All is well, though, as Foxygen’s ability to deliver lines with a confident slacker’s panache trumps their occasional lyrical over-simplicity and lack of concrete sense. These Haight-Ashbury-inspired 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic know how to write garage bluesy pop songs so good that you forgive them name-dropping God like he’s just another one of the bros.

Jordan Mainzer is a staff writer at FP and the editor of art, architecture, and design blog DRA. He recently wrote a review of Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken. A recent graduate of Brown University, he now lives in Chicago.

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